A Once-in-a-Century Occasion: The Wrigley’s Ongoing Gift to Catalina Island

One hundred years later, Catalina Island Company honors William Wrigley Jr. with limited-time food and attractions.

CATALINA ISLAND—Hidden by the fog, Wrigley laid his eyes on Catalina Island the first time from a steamship with his wife Ada and son Philip in 1919. Wrigley had bought stock in the island sight unseen – in fact, Wrigley did not know that the island had a mountainous terrain leading him to say, “My goodness, it’s a mountain. I thought it was flat.”

In American culture, the Wrigleys’ legacy is one that stands for a dream conquered. The Wrigleys made millions starting with chewing gum. The rise of his entrepreneurial endeavor led to the purchase of two spectacular buys, which would eventually merge together: Catalina Island and the Chicago Cubs. Even today, it’s not unusual to come across a Cubs fan on the island.

If not for the Wrigleys, it is hard to imagine if Catalina Island ever would have been catapulted to the iconic reputation it has today as so much of what the island’s known for – the Casino, Mt. Ada, Catalina Country Club, Airport in the Sky, and so much more – is a result of their imprint.

The year 2019 marks the centennial of when Wrigley purchased nearly every share of Santa Catalina Island Company. Today, Catalina Island Company is still owned by descendants of Wrigley. The Log recently published a Catalina Column about Rusack Vineyards, yet another venture by Alison Wrigley Rusack and her husband; the property of the vineyard was once an Arabian horse ranch. Wrigley’s son, Philip, famously deeded most of the island to Catalina Island Conservancy, a nonprofit with a mission to steward and protect Catalina’s unique ecosystem, in 1975.

One hundred years later, the island still celebrates this very special turning point in its history. If you’re planning a trip to Catalina this year, be sure to check out some of the memorable events that will be taking place. Here’s an overview of a few.


Mt. Ada

Named for Wrigley’s wife, Mt. Ada is a must-see and the food is some of the best you can find on Catalina. When this reporter took a tour in 2018, a guide said Wrigley sent out scouts to pinpoint the best view of Avalon Harbor – they did not disappoint. Without a doubt dining on the patio of the Wrigley’s home, which is now an exclusive bed and breakfast, is one of the most breathtaking scenes on the entire California coast. Catalina Island Company is providing an exclusive tour, which includes Mt. Ada and a narrated tour of the Casino’s Avalon Theatre – one of the first cinemas designed to show “talkies” as film departed from the silent era. For an extra cost, guests can enjoy a three course meal with a choice of wine, beer, sparkling wine or mimosas and can try the Plantation Vegetable Soup – a special menu item for the centennial.


Wrigley’s Catalina: A Centennial Celebration

The Wrigleys were notably very altruistic, which is a center of this unique exhibit at Catalina Island Museum. The chewing gum magnate not only made Catalina his home away from home, he also had ambitious plans for Avalon’s industry, which is a center of this exhibit. Many of the items on display, including the Wrigley family Bible, letters, and other artifacts, have never been seen by the public before, giving guests extraordinary insight into Avalon’s golden age. Every guest will get a free stick of Wrigley’s Gum as they exit the museum – how’s that for generosity?


Wrigley’s Catalina Tour

Guided tours exploring the many landmarks and attractions related to the Wrigleys will be offered all year long. Just a few of the stops include a look inside Catalina Country Club, the original Cubs clubhouse as well as much sports memorabilia. Other stops include the Cubs training ground – at least where it once was located, the former Bird Park (a popular tourism spot into the 50s, which housed thousands of exotic birds), and Catalina Chimes Tower. The ride also includes scenic views of the ocean and canyons.


Flashback Food & Drink Specials

Foodies in general will consider the restaurant specials – all throwbacks to popular menu items during the Wrigleys’ time – a treat. Above, Mt. Ada’s plantation vegetable soup was already mentioned. Harbor Reef Restaurant resurrects an Irish-American classic corned beef and cabbage. Allegedly St. Patrick’s Day was a major holiday for the visiting Chicago Cubs, who were in the peak of pre-season baseball during that time. Corned beef and cabbage was always served during the festivities. Descanso Beach Club is offering a prime rib sandwich. Seafood lovers can try the baked pacific swordfish at Avalon Grille. Stop by Encato Café after filling up on savory meals to indulge in the “Wrigley Welcome” – a once-in-a-lifetime dessert.


Of course, these few activities are only a slice of what the island has to offer in terms of the Wrigleys’ influence and history. Go to visitcatalinaisland.com or catalinachamber.com to learn more about the island’s history as well as plan an itinerary to experience all the fun to be had on Catalina.


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